CEDAR CITY — A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum holds a lot of promise, with even its title and opening song promising humor. Unlike the boring film version, the cast and director at the Neil Simon Festival made the show exciting, with a great deal to like in the performances and the set, costumes, and lighting. This Forum certainly lived up to its name.
Based on the works of Plautus and with a script by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is set in ancient Rome, and tells the story of a slave named Pseudolus who wants to be free. His master, Senex, has a son, Hero, who has fallen in love with a girl, Philia, whom he can see through the window next door. Senex promises to free Pseudolus in exchange for Philia. The owner of that house is Lycus, who sells prostitutes and has just sold Philia to Captain Miles Gloriosus.
Director Douglas Hill staged the chaos of this farce, and the way he had three people running around dressed like Philia was perfectly hilarious. Hill ensured that there was a lot of physical comedy, such as whenever Pseudolus grabbed Hysterium (another slave) as he was trying to leave, Hysterium did this jerky lean and kick, and then came back to his starting point, like a yo-yo. Additionally, the way the girls of Lycus house were presented was varied and beautiful. Emily Henwood created the choreography, and I liked how she made each girl’s dance unique to their style, like the girl who had a cat tail clawing at the air with her hand.
Pseudolus, played by Henry Ballesteros, was so fun to watch. He had a huge smile, and whenever he was creating a scheme, I could see his wide eyes looking for the answer up above. Hero was played by Quinn Osborne, and he had that great ignorant look that matched his lines perfectly, like when he’s sang about how impossible it is that his father should want to be with a young girl at his age.
Philia was played by Tammi Colombo and had a great stupidity developed for her part. I loved when she sang the song, “I’m Lovely,” listing all the things she didn’t know, such as how to count. I also appreciated Lycus, played by Trevor Messenger. He had a serious demeanor, but when he was supposed to meet with the captain, his fear came through and he scampered and hid like a mouse. The switch from proud, rich leader to fearful pushover was great.
The singing was fun, though sometimes a little off-tune, such as when Ballesteros opened with the first number (“Comedy Tonight”), or when Colombo sang “Lovely” she was sharp on a couple notes. But, generally the actors sang the Stephen Sondheim score well. Erronius, played by Max Kunz, did such a great impression of a ridiculous old man. His arms often stretched out in front of him with his fingers wiggling like he was either helping himself to balance or trying to grab something in front of him to help pull himself along. And it was awesome how Hill had Kunz move across the stage at his slow pace while everything else paused in utter silence. Every pass was hilarious.
Senex, played by Richard Bugg. was absolutely hilarious. He was able to go from fear of his wife to lust after a girl in seconds. And the way he said the line, “Never mind who she is. Who is she?” was just perfectly sudden and suspicious. I also loved Miles Gloriosus, played by Devin Anderson. He was so good at being mean and tough that when he saw his presumably dead bride and yelled, “Men, support me!” and wailed weakly, it was such a fun change that I laughed hard.
The costumes (designed by Jen Bach) were lovely, and I especially appreciated the black forms of sultry ladies lining Lycus’ colorfully patterned cape. (The fact that Anderson had nipple rings was hilarious.) And the tassles on Bugg’s costume were just lovely, and popped so nicely to emphasize his attempt at dressing up.
I loved the way the three houses on set looked like cartoons. Michael Harvey designed the set, and had each house painted one color. Then different shades were used to give it more variety and depth, but it was fun to see how each color represented the three families, and the cartoon look added to the ridiculousness of the show.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a very fun show, with so much pizzazz that I enjoyed a great deal. All the work that was put into this show paid off well and I’m glad I got to see it.
Donate to Utah Theatre Bloggers Association today and help support theatre criticism in Utah. Our staff work hard to be an independent voice in our arts community. Currently, our goal is to pay our reviewers and editors. UTBA is a non-profit organization, and your donation is fully tax deductible.